To continue our journey through fascinating destinations and inspiring routes, two more examples of diverse travel experiences: EuroVelo and The Wild Atlantic way. 

Adam Bodor shares the development of the European cycle route network with its 17 routes throughout Europe, focusing particularly on the example of the Iron Curtain Trail. 

The main objective of the European Cycling Federation (ECF) is to see more people cycling more often as a mean of transport or tourism. We are the largest cyclist advocacy Organisation  We deal  with transport and tourism’s aspect of cycling so we are not a sport Federation; we work on all aspects of cycling except for sport. Our members are coming from all over the world. If I talk to you about cycling, this is maybe the scenario that comes to your mind: people with heavy luggage’s and bikes cycling around and spending very few little money during their trip.

This is not true anymore as cycling tourism is changing, and moved more to the mainstream.

You don’t see only young people on bikes with heavy luggages, but you also see elderly people on e-bikes, family with kids, people cycling with the sport motivation or those cycling during their holidays in a city or countryside. Due to this diversification, the cycling became bigger.

According to this study that was commissioned by the European Parliament, 2.3 billion cycle trips are registered in Europe per year, of which 20 million involve overnight stays (on average 3 nights up to one week). Each of these overnight trips generates around 350 euro economical impact.

To summarize, Cycle Tourism generate €44bn revenue which is a significant part of the economic impact generated by cycling in general (€200bn).

To put into context what Cycle Tourism market means in size compared to other tourism markets like the cruise Industry: €44bn vs €39.4bn respectively.

It’s approximately same size as the cruiseship Industry but there are substantial differences as well. Usually cycling tourists spend their money at small medium enterprises that employ local people and create a tax income locally. Because it is a bicycle, cycling tourism also connects to the CO2 issues, helping with the carbon emission from the transport sector; and of course it de-congestes tourism flows.

On the other hand, the cruise Industry brings more tourists in those hot spots that are already full of tourists. In fact cycling tourism really helps a lot if your need is to spread the tourism flow in space and time especially during off peak seasons.

This is the cycle tourism model that is represented as a circle of interconnected elements. 

Cycle tourist is interested in safe and comfortable routes, but they also need services and facilities. An Organisation is required to organise and promote to tourists, so that the cycling tourist can have a happy experience and likely return to the destination.

Lets start from one very key element in the circle, given by the routes’ criteria. In relation to the safe and comfortable aspect, there are different groups identifying these routes:

Local routes are the basis, then regional and European cycling routes. We think that the best local routes should be part of the regional network; and the best regional routes should be part of the national network.

The European cycling routes include 15 routes and over 70,000 kilometres in 42 countries in Europe. It is coordinated by our Organisation, the ECF.

As I mentioned, these routes should be attractive, safe, comfortable and direct. I have underlined the ‘attractiveness’. For example EuroVelo 3 is the Santiago de Campostela route and we know by fact that this route is very attractive. I would like to mention some other examples from our network: EuroVelo 6 is our flagship as it is one of our most popular routes with the famous sections along the Loire and the Danube Rivers. This route is very easy to identify by its landmarks of  rivers, castles along the Loire. Routes with similar profiles are the most successful ones.

In our network we have also very strong thematic routes.

There are 3 routes that have a very explicit cultural theme, but of course there is a cultural theme in all of them with three being the strongest:

The Pilgrims Route (EuroVelo 3), the Via Romea Francigena (EuroVelo 5, from Canterbury to Rome) and the Iron Curtain Trail (EuroVelo 13). The latter is our newest route; it is about 10,000 kilometres long. It retraces this ‘Iron Curtain’, a border stretching from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Following this route for more than 10,400 kilometres is a living history lesson but also provides a welcome reminder of the peace and reconciliation that have followed the fall of the ‘Curtain’.

It follows the former border between East and West and its value is to help us to learn about our common history, the history we all share but that we do not necessarily know; especially in the case of  younger generations. It is fascinating when you think that this was a really hard border dividing Europe and now you can cycle along it enjoying nature and history.

If you talk about the history of division between East and West, you can still see memories from the places, like old military buildings, or former fences. During the last 10 to 7 years they frequently transformed into Greenbelt, so you can also experience lots of nature as those areas are intact from any human impact. Looking at the development circle of cycle tourism:

⇒ Attractive, safe, comfortable routes; the routes are former military routes and not always in good conditions so it is important that we convince several Authorities in different countries to invest and improve those routes’ conditions. In Latvia for example they have created a bridge to join the two sides of the river on the Iron Curtain Trail.

Services/facilities; we managed to receive the investments from the Authorities to improve the infrastructures. Its not sufficient to have nice roads if you miss key good services like restaurants, accommodations. The Iron Curtain Trail faced a very different situation:

In Central Park in Germany, Austria and Czech Republic we have well established cycling friendly accommodations (they even have a small labels for the route), and restaurants whereas in the far North like Finland or in the South like Bulgaria we are facing lack of places to stay as this is a former border so it is one of the most challenging route. One of our partners in Australia started a ‘homestay’ project to convince those farmers to host those cycling visitors. It is a win-win situation because normally nobody visits the farmers for very long. They are really happy now if somebody is coming; on top of that visitors have the chance to try local delicatessen and to have a little insight into locals’ life. If you talk about ‘long haul’ tourists this is also somehow the way you can experience real life in Europe immersing yourself fully in our traditions.

⇒ Organisation; obviously these routes and services are not organized by themselves, but it is ECF that coordinates them at the European level. We have 18 National EuroVelo Coordination Centres and 7 EuroVelo contact points around Europe.

In case of the Iron Trail due to its complexity we didn’t have enough so it was very important for us to find the right partners. We managed to decrease the lack of coordinators in the country from 13 to 9. The partners in the countries were only a temporary solution; we also managed to convince the right stakeholders to take responsibilities for these routes because without that, their development would have been impossible.

⇒ Promotion, communication, offers; when you have the routes and the responsible Organisations,  we then have to look into promotions and marketing. We know that the cycle tourism still prefers pretty material like maps or guide books but more and more people plan their trip on the web, so we have all info available on the EuroVelo portal. We also started to work on new promotional tools for example we made an App for the Iron Curtain Trail where people can register if they visited the most important attractions and they can get a Certification. Because our intent is to attract younger generations to learn history we are developing those gadgets really important for them. We use FB and Twitter but we also collaborate with people that write books, i.e. Tim Moore that did the route on bike and generated some media attention. So it is possible to reach out more than what we do without financial tools”.

You can watch the video here: Alan Bodor.

Marian Leydon talks about the development of the Wild Atlantic Way sharing its achievements and challenges. 

“It’s the longest coastal route on the west coast, and on some part of the north and south coasts of the Republic of Ireland. The 2,500 kilometres driving route passes through nine countries and three provinces.

The idea came about as we were exiting the worse recession of recent times and both Ireland and the National Tourism Development Party in Ireland wanted to develop a significant tourism proposition for the West Coast of the Region.

There were a number of reasons behind that. We have issues with regionality: 87% of International visitors travel mainly to Dublin, so this proposition was an attempt to get them to the West Coast and other areas outside Dublin; we also wanted to grow the number of night stays and revenues and build a story that due to the lack of coherent brand was based on confused messages to tourists. Our response to those issues was to create

a new “experience” and “destination” developed by Fáilte Ireland to present the West Coast of Ireland as a compelling international tourism product of scale and singularity.

We didn’t work on this on our own

A project consultation agency group was set up in 2014; The Wild Atlantic Way covers 10 counties of the West Coast of Ireland and those 10 local Authorities were brought together for a project consultation Agency.

It has always been there, it just didn’t have a name: this is a Michelin guide from 1914 and you can see there is a number of coastal routes marked there that have always been places of interest for visitors.

This is the route that we developed. It expands 2,500 kilometres keeping the visitors as close as possible to the coastal line from the southernmost point of Cork to the northernmost of Donegal. As part of this coastal line we identified 180 discovery points on the drive, 15 signature places. This is the brand message of the route:

We hope that in 10 years time…

For such a huge project we developed an operational programme in 2015: this sets the strategy for a sustainable implementation framework of The Atlantic Way for 2015-2019. The operational programme was the first strategy plan that was set out for the continuous evolution of the route over the decade.

Destination managers and Tourism Authorities from around the world have identified the Industry, the Community and the Environment as the key critical successful factors for a sustainable development of the destination: the actual interaction in the vice model occurs before a destination becomes sustainable. So we used the VICE model to identify our profile demand and the needs of the visitors, including the impact of the route on the Industry and the businesses, the impact on the environment and the community. These elements in synergy allow a sustainable model.

On the West coast we have a very delicate and sensitive landscape and we also developed a strategic environmental strategy: this informs each stage of the evolution of the operational plan with a draft strategy to monitor the impact of the route on the environment every year. The finding from the environmental management strategy are used for the operational plan’s review. Our mid term review is late this year. Under the brand Architecture we developed three pillars:

The target market segments were identified into two: the culturally curious, a couple or a family that is seeking cultural experiences to enrich their lives; they are curious to explore new landscapes and seascapes, small towns, villages, castles, ancient sites and they like authentic local experiences. The great escapers are young couples and families; their priority is togetherness, spending quality time with their loved ones and creating those lifelong memories with them.

Thankfully we had success to date: a route signage and orientation programme. This was the first stage in the development of the route: a huge project started in 2014 and completed in 2015 with 3,850 signs over 3,500 kilometres and 950 junctions. It was carried out with the local Authorities. The second stage of the development of the Wild Atlantic Way involved the work at the 188 discovery points.

This tall structure is a photo point where visitors can take photos of themselves with the place they have visited on the picture. We also have interpretation panel at each site. The idea is to provide a motivation to visit small localities and encourage visitors to slow down during their driving without missing nice places on the route. We have a Capital investment programme. Last year we announce €125 million for all Ireland in capital investment. We also invested some capital in visitor experience: this is the Fanad Lighthouse visitor experience on the north coast of County Donegal.

The lighthouse was there; we just invested €300,000 to create the visitors experience for an International market.

Then we have Derrigimlagh in Connemara; Connemara is one of the most popular destination in Ireland but because it is experiencing some congestion at the moment, we decided to create more visitors experience off the main route; and this is Derringimlagh, at 5 kilometres walk near Clifden that passes through tiny lakes and peat rich in flora and fauna. In this spot two remarkable events of 20th century history took place. In October 1907 the first commercial transatlantic message was transmitted from Marconi’s wireless telegraphy station to Glace Bay, Newfoundland, Canada. The station was burned down during the Civil War in 1922; the ruins are still visible today. Close-by is a white aeroplance wing-shaped memorial to Alcock and Brown, who crash landed – uninjured – into Derrigimlagh Bog in 1919 at the end of the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. These were the two stories that we brought to life in Connemara. There, also the Pearse Cultural Centre, which interprets Irish language and culture for visitors.

On one side we do have challenges on the dispersion of international visitors along the Wild Atlantic Way that is quite an issue for Ireland and a priority for us. On the heat map we can see the spatial travel passions of International visitors to Ireland; these data are insights of the travel demand and help us in planning, development and management.

It’s the South West coast here that has the highest number of International visitors and that’s because of  motorway’s service from Dublin and because it’s home of our most famous attractions.

We had to make some capital investment in the Northern part of The Wild Atlantic Way to provide visitors a more compelling reason to travel there. 

On the other side, we have huge issues with visitor management & congestion in the hot spots on the Wild Atlantic Way. We have tried a number of initiatives, of which three ones are the most important for the problem of congestion.

The first of those is to create drives ‘Off’ the Wild Atlantic Way. The Wild Atlantic Way will always be the primary route where more promotion is invested; nevertheless we try to pull visitors off those heavily congested spots in more rural areas.

The first of these joints is the Shannon Estuary Way, which is in the Midwest and brings visitors off and then back onto the Wild Atlantic Way. The route will be signs posted and there will be some light interpretation although it wont be to the same level as for the main way.

We are currently developing a series of visitors’ experience development plans. The aim of the plans is to allow visitors to engage with the true essence and story of an area without compromising the environment or the culture of the Region.

The first experience we developed is on this island; Skellig Michael is the larger of the two Skelling Islands, 11.6 kilometres west of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. A Gaelic Christian monastery was founded on the island at some point between the 6th and 8th century and remained continuously occupied until it was abandoned in the late 12th century. The remains of the monastery, and most of the island, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It was featured in the last Star Wars movies, which has been an incredible boost with 50,000 visitors per year. Every visitor that comes to Ireland cannot make it to the Island so we try to create a similar experience on the main land so visitors can leave Ireland with the feeling of having experienced the Skelling Island too.

We believe that an experience creates:

We are also looking to extend the season so we have been running ‘extending season’ workshops for our tourism trade and businesses on the Wild Atlantic Way to extend the short season. We have had quite few success to date:

There is a successful food trail that runs all year around; we have a number of short season festivals with a result of one week season’s extension as almost 50% of the businesses confirmed. As a result of that an increasing number of new Wild Atlantic Way businesses started to pop up.

Certainly to get the message across worldwide we had to increase the marketing and selling of the Wild Atlantic Way.

In 2016 we saw 3.8 million overseas visitors!

In 2015 we developed a dedicated website for the Wild Atlantic Way; this was the first time we have ever done this as the our product before was confined to Ireland. We felt that the brand was big enough to provide a shop window of all the activities and experiences. Tourism Ireland promotes the route overseas through trade promotions workshops, consumers’ activities, etc.

We continue to invest in marketing campaigns. This was an autumn campaign that we run to extend the short season in the West Coast.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 15.11.18

Last year we developed the Atlantic Way Passport similar to what they have here for the Camino; it helps recording memories of the places that visitors experience. The hope is that it will become a collection item so that visitors come back to collect additional stamps needed to complete their route.”

You can watch the video here: Marian Leydon.

While I hear these presentations I discover myself captured by the endless display of wonders and delights the world has in store for us…

We have been learning the challenges we face in the tourism sector, yet there isn’t any question mark on the fact that travel keeps its promise to us:

always to come back…


Leave a Reply